Anthon Beeke and the arts: a designer under the influence
Denying categories within the arts, and defying oppositions between so-called high and low art, Anthon Beeke, from the onset, has been a visual artist who chose graphic design to be his medium. In that sense he is not a graphic designer aspiring to be considered an artist: he has decided he isone. With his provocative attitude, by pushing boundaries and by crossing disciplines, his interests have always been the interests of an artist who, although working in the ‘applied arts’ and ‘for clients’, would fight for his autonomy and shift the parameters even when they were agreed upon earlier. His visual provocations have often lead to discussion, debate -and to press !-, and his erotic posters, sometimes considered to be anti-feminist, made him look like a rebel, even if as a personality Beeke is more of a dreamer.
Engaged in ‘dérive’-like (note 1) urban meanderings that caused him to be famously un-punctual, he believes in the power of the present, full of chance and random situations that offer amazement and sudden insight. It is no surprise then, that Fluxus, with George Maciunas, Dutch protagonists Willem de Ridder and the photographer -and Anthon’s former wife- Anna Beeke, had a great impact on his ways of seeing the interconnectedness of life and art. Anthon could talk for hours about the concerts with alarm clocks and about Anna’s ‘striptease in reverse’.
But he always was rather a ‘flaneur’ than a performer: fascinated by street phenomena and street art, he admired the ‘décollages’ by Hains and Villeglé early on, artists he may have gotten to know through the works of Werkman and Willem Sandberg, whose ‘ripping’ of paper and ‘papiers collé’s’, were another important early influence and a link to his interest in Schwitters. The multi-layered quality of many posters made in the Seventies seem to pay hommage to the days of ‘décollage’ and ‘papier collé’s, while all along introducing new street-wise visual languages like sprayed graffiti, combinations of styles that made his posters almost look three-dimensional.
As colleague- designer Keith Godard wrote in the introduction to the publication for Beeke’s 1990 show at The Cooper Union. “Anthon plays within the limitations of the two dimensional sheet, inviting the viewer to test the reality of the surface: Is it continuous or torn, sandy or smooth, whole or fragmented? Does its broken skin reveal another layer of meaning or only the historical accumulation of posters pasted onto the wall behind it?” And I would agree with his conclusion that Anthon Beeke, as one of the great poster designers of our time, uses the medium “as a form of public address” rather than to create fragile artworks designed to be framed on a wall. Art? Sure, yet never presented as a discrete object, but in the form of strong visual statements, to be reproduced without limits, and in a constant dialogue with everyday life.
text Saskia Bos
2008, photographed by Krijn van Noordwijk